The Novel Coronavirus situation is worsening with more and more cases globally…Every country is taking many measures to handle the unprecedented situation. In this context, President Trump has taken many measures such as banning entry from certain countries like China, EU Region, etc. which have more COVID-19 cases. In addition to that, On March 13th, 2020, President Trump Declared National Emergency for COVID-19 Outbreak. Also, US Embassy in India has Canceled Visa Appointments… Also, USCIS continue to announce alerts like rescheduling their appointments, closing offices, etc..With all of these going on, many of you are wondering what does it mean for international holders on visas like H1B, H4, F1, L1, etc. and how does it impact USCIS processing, if your petition is expiring or you have an appointment with USCIS. We will cover all those aspects in this article and keep this page updated as we have new alerts issues by USCIS.
May 1 – RFE, NOID Response – 60 Days Flexibility until July 1st
May 1st, 2020: USCIS announced that they are extended the 60 days flexibility to submit responses for RFEs, NOIDs, etc. dates until July 1st, 2020. Previously they announced that this flexibility was for notices issues between March 1st and May 1st. Now, they have extended it changing the period to be March 1st to July 1st, 2020. Indian media has circulated misleading headlines and is creating confusion. Below are the details and clarification.
- No New Grace Period for H1Bs- Misleading Headlines : Below is what some popular Indian Media outlets have put in. They are just clickbait and misleading headlines. Many just read the headlines and assume certain things and get confused. The fact is that, USCIS is only giving additional 60 days for anyone who got RFE, NOID, etc for their petitions to respond, if they got it between March 1st and July 1st. This is not just for H1B visa, it is for all forms filed with USCIS and if there was a decision or RFE, NOIR, NOID, etc. This is not new, they gave exact thing in late March indicating the flexibility in submitting RFE responses until May 1st. Now, they have just extended it until July 1st, that’s about it. There is NO additional Grace period given by USCIS for H1B holders.
- Types of forms, applicants for 60 days flexibility : The flexibility to respond applies to all forms that are filed by applicant and petitioners with USCIS with below decisions or notices
- RFE ( request for evidence)
- NOID (Notice of Intent to Deny)
- NOIR ( Notice of Intent to Revoke)
- Continuation of Request Evidence(N14)
- Notice of Intent to rescind, notices of intent to terminate regional investment center
- filing ate requirements for form I-120B, Notice of appeal or motion.
- Official News Alert : Check the USCIS Official News Release
Apr-24 – USCIS Planning to Re-open Offices on June 4
April 24, 2020 : USCIS released a press alert indicating that they are planning to re-open their offices on or after June 4th, 2020. They clarified the below :
- USCIS employees are continuing to work on essential services that do not require any face to face interaction like Biometrics, interviews, etc.
- They clarified that they will provide emergency in-person services, if needed and you should contact their customer service for any help.
- They re-iterated what they said before indicating that they will automatically re-schedule appointment such as Biometrics, interviews, etc. and send relevant notices.
The reality is many have applied for H4 extensions, COS, B2, etc. using form I-539 that require Biometrics and are stuck waiting for the Application Support Centers (ASC) to open for giving Biometrics, where you need to fill Application Information Worksheet (AIW) for biometrics. So far USCIS has not given waiver for H4 visa holders and many other visa types, except categories such as. (c)(33), (c)(35), (c)(36), (c)(37). Check March 30th USCIS update, which is further below on this page for more info.
Not having ASC offices open is a huge problem for many working on certain EAD categories like H4 EAD, which does not have 180 days automatic extension. You can check EAD Category Codes that have 180 days automatic extension to work to get more info on who all have that eligibility.
June 4th, 2020 date is a hope for many stuck and waiting to give Biometrics. There are couple of lawsuits as well on this filed by some attorney’s. So far the lawsuits have not resulted in any waiver. Will keep you all posted as we have updates.
Check below screenshot and USCIS Official Press Release for more info
Apr-13 – Extension, COS, Late Applications, Visa Waiver Options
April 13, 2020 : Many foreign nationals are stuck in US as they cannot go to home country and some have delays in submitting applications. USCIS has given guidance today on how they will handle situations of Extension of Status (EOS), Change of Status (COS), Visa Waiver Entrants, including late applications. Below is the complete summary. You may watch the YouTube video as well at the end of this update.
USCIS says that, in general non-immigrant visa holders are supposed to leave after their authorized stay ends, but they are stuck in US now due to the COVID-19 situation and USCIS understands the situation and provides the below options for non-immigrant visa holders.
- Apply for Extension of Status / Change of Status : USCIS says that non-immigrants should file either Extension of Status or Change of Status in a timely manner to avoid issues. They do mention that many of these forms are online. It means that depending on your situation, you should take necessary action immediately to be in proper compliance. Below are some examples that apply to this guidance.
- B2 (Visitor Visa) Extensions : If you are in US on B2 Visitor Visa like parents, and you cannot leave the country due to travel restrictions in your country, you should apply for Extension of Status online using I-539 form. It is online form and put in a letter with proof indicating that there is travel ban.
- B2 COS for H1B or L1 Job Loss : If you have lost your job and you cannot find the job in 60 days grace period for H1Bs or L1 and cannot depart US, then you should consider applying for COS to B2. You can use the same process as above. Do this before your 60 days are exhausted to be safe. You should discuss with your attorney as well on this.
- No Accrual of Unlawful Presence – Timely filing : USCIS says that in general, if you file COS or Extensions on time, you do not accrue any unlawful presence, when they are pending. Also, they re-iterated that for cases certain visa holders like H1B, L1, others can work for up to 240 days after I-94 expiration, when the petition is pending. So, they suggest to file on time.
- Late Applications with COVID-19 Delays : Depending on case-by-case basis, USCIS can consider delays caused by COVID-19 for timely filing and process them, instead of rejecting the same…They would consider the delays under the Special Situations of USCIS . As an applicant, you need to provide credible evidence indicating the delay in filing and explain why it was beyond your control. The delay in filing should correspond to your situation and you cannot take it for granted and file at a much later time…You should try to file it as soon as you can…Below are some common situations that can fall under this. Also, see the regulation screenshot below on wha
- I-539 – COS Filing Delays : It could be situations like your previous status expired or ended due to job loss or some other reason, but you could not file it before the I-94 expiration or could not leave the country immediately, you should file B2 COS with I-539 form with paperwork explaining the reason why you cannot leave and delay in filing under special circumstances.
- H1B or L1 extensions filing Delay : If let’s say extensions were not able to be filed due to office closures or issues getting paperwork done remotely, you can put in explanation for delays.
- Regulation Text : Below is the screenshot of the regulation text for special circumstances for delay in filing. Check Regulation
- Visa Waiver Program (VWP) Applicants: In general, if you qualify for Visa waiver program, you cannot extend your stay or change status. But, with COVID-19, many cannot leave and based on USCIS discretion, they can grant up to 30 days. Also, if they cannot leave in 30 days, USCIS can give additional 30 Days. Check Regulation . Such VWP applicants should call USCIS Contact Center to arrange for the extensions.
Overall, these are extraordinary situations and you need to be complaint as per the USCIS regulations, when you stay in the country. Check Official Press Alert
Apr-3 – AILA Files Lawsuit against USICIS to extend deadlines
April 3, 2020 : AILA filed a lawsuit against USCIS/DHS seeking extension of deadlines and implementing status quo for all the lawful non-immigrants in US. Check completed details at AILA Lawsuit against USCIS – COVID-19 Extend Deadlines
Apr-1 – USCIS Offices Closed at least until May 3rd.
April 1st, 2020 : USCIS issued an alert today indicating that they continue to keep their offices closed at least until May 3rd. The previous guidance was that they would have it closed at least until April 1st, now they are extending the same for another month at least. What does it mean for everyone ? It is no different from before, you cannot go for Biometrics Appointments for H4, L2. You cannot do any interviews or in-person activities that require your presence in their office. You cannot have Naturalization ceremonies or Infopass Appointment, including Asylum interviews. USCIS will take necessary steps to re-schedule all the appointments accordingly and send you the new appointments once they plan to open their Offices for In-person activities. It is going to further delay processing of H4, B2, H4 + EAD, L2 + EAD applications that require Biometrics as part of I-539 form. Looking at the situation, we do not know, if USCIS will be ready. Hope they issue some guidance to re-use the Biometrics for other visa types such as H4, B2, L2, etc. Currently, the Biometrics re-use is only applicable to I-765 forms that are for few categories, Check below Mar 30th update. See below alert screenshot from USCIS, check it at USCIS Press Alert
Mar-30 – Reuse Biometrics for I-765 forms, continue processing
March 30th, 2020 : USCIS announced today that they will re-use any previously submitted biometrics to process the Form I-765 forms that are submitted for Employment Authorization Document (EAD). The EAD Categories that require biometrics are below :
- (c)(33) – DACA Holders
- (c)(35) – Approved employment-based immigrant petition with compelling circumstances
- (c)(36) – spouse or unmarried dependent child of employment-based immigrant petition with compelling circumstances
- (c)(37) – CNMI long-term resident status.
They have not given any guidance for the I-539 form, which requires Biometrics for H4, L2, etc. Those visa categories will need to defer their biometrics appointments. It is not a relief for H4 holders who have concurrent EAD filing as well… Read USCIS Alert
Mar-27 – RFE and NOID – Submission 60 Days Flexibility Option
March 27th, 2020 : USCIS announced today that they are giving more flexibility with dates for submission of responses for Request for Evidence (RFE) and Notice of Intent to Deny(NOID) for any of employers that have received RFEs/NOIDs dated between March 1st and May 1st, 2020. Below is what it means.
- Why Flexibility with RFE / NOID Submission : If you look at a sample RFE for Maintenance of Status, Employer Employee relationship, you will see that USCIS is requesting for many documents that would be required from employers, clients, vendors, third parties or schools to address the items in RFE or NOID. With many offices working from home and some closed, employers may not be able to respond on time with all the required documents and there can be delays. USCIS to address this situation with COVID-19, they are giving flexibility to submit the responses for RFE and NOID.
- 60 Days Flexibility to Submit Docs : USCIS says that, if you have got an RFE or NOID, that is dated between March 1st and May 1st, 2020, then you get additional 60 days flexibility to submit the documents. USCIS will consider any responses that are received within 60 Calendar days from the deadline specified in the RFE/ NOID, before they take any action or decision on the case. Technically, they will wait for 60 more days from the deadline date in RFE.
- All Visa Types, Benefits Applied : USCIS has not specified any specific Visa types or Form Types in the alert. It is safe to assume that this applies to all visa types like H1B, H4 Visa, L1, L2, EADs every other form that is applied with USCIS
- This is a good move by USCIS to help employers respond to RFEs. They do not talk about any of the old RFE notices that were issued before March 1st. So, if you were to receive an RFE on Feb 28th, then you need to respond accordingly within the deadline given, there is no additional 60 days grace period. See below screenshot for official alert and check USCIS Official Alert
Mar-25 – USCIS Offices Closed at least until April 7th.
March 25th, 2020 : USCIS issued an alert and press release today indicating that they are closing their offices at least until April 7th, 2020. It may open after that, unless they extend the closures. They also indicate that USCIS staff is working on the cases that are already with them and will send out the re-schedule notices for all sorts of appointments, interviews, etc. If there is any emergency, you can contact their service center. Check USCIS press release
Mar-20 : Premium Processing Closed, Wet Signature Flexibility
March 20th, 2020 : USCIS did two press releases today outlining cancellation of Premium Processing for I-129 and I-140 forms and also provided flexibility with the Signature when submitting forms. Below are the details by each of the key alerts
Premium Processing Suspended for I-129, I-140 forms
USCIS announced that their Premium Processing service is suspended until further notice for anyone using the forms I-129 and I-140. The reason for the suspension is the national emergency with COVID-19. The various visa holders impacted are :
- I-129 form : Visa Applications for H1B, L1A, L1B, E1, E2, H2B, H3, LZ, O1, O2, P1, P1S, P2S, P3, Q1, R1, TN1, TN2
- I-140 form : EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3 ( Green Card petitions for Employment Based workers )
Starting from March 20th, 2020, USCIS will not accept and process any of the above mentioned forms related to the the visa types in Premium Processing. They will process any of the previously accepted Premium Processing requests before March 20th as per the SLA of 15 days. They also said that the pre-paid mailers options cannot be done due to the situation and only send direct approval notices in their batch printed notices.
They mentioned that, if someone has filed in Premium Processing before March 20th, 2020 and have not heard from USCIS within the SLA of 15 calendar days, then they will receive a refund of the premium processing fee. Also, they will also reject any Premium processing requests that were submitted before March 20th, but not accepted by USCIS and return the Filing fee.
Premium Processing is suspended for all H1B Petitions at this point. The previous Premium processing for FY 2021 guidance is not valid anymore and the tentative dates in them are also not applicable now. In summary, below is the availability situation. Check USCIS Official Press Release
|H1B Visa Filing Category||Premium Processing Status|
|All H1B FY 2021 Cap |
( Regular & Masters Cap)
( COS, Consular Processing)
|Cap Exempt H1Bs|
(Non Profit Research, etc.)
|Previous H1B Cap Pending|
(FY 2020 petitions)
Flexibility with Wet Signature for Forms
USCIS announced that, due to many offices working from home with COVID-19, they are giving flexibility with wet signature on the forms submitted to them. Below is the actual issue and flexibility given by USCIS.
- Issue to Submit Wet Signature Forms : With many working from home, the key issue is employers, attorney or applicants may not be able to get the actual wet signature on a USCIS form and submit the same physical copy with application package, when anyone files for a petition for benefit.
- USCIS Flexibility Option for Signatures : USCIS will accept all forms and documents with reproduced original signatures from March 21st, 2020. This includes I-129 form used for H1B and many other visas types. They say that they already accept such signature for other documents. Let’s understand what is that reproduced signature they accept.
- Reproduced Original Signature : USCIS clarified that, a reproduced original signature is nothing but a physical form with wet signature ( signed by an actual person with pen) that is scanned, faxed or photocopied from the original handwritten signature. Basically, all they are saying is, you need to fill out a physical form, sign it in wet ink with pen and then scan the same and send it to them. They will consider such scanned documents of the original signature, which is called reproduced original signature.
- Retain Original Copies of Reproduced Original Signature : They also mention that all the applicants, employers, attorney need to retain the original copies of the documents that they signed and scanned for verification purpose. USCIS may ask for these in the future, if needed.
You can check the official USCIS Press release for Signatures Guidance
Mar-17 : USCIS Offices Closed to Public for In-Person Activities
March 17th, 2020 : USCIS announced today that they are closing all their offices to public for in-person activities at its field offices, asylum offices and Application Support Centers (ASCs) until April 1st (at least). The reason for this closure is to contain the spread of Coronavirus. Below are the various services that are not available at USCIS offices
- Biometrics Appointments at ASCs for H4, L2, others
- In-person Interviews
- Naturalization Ceremonies
- Asylum applicants interviews
- Infopass appointments
- Any in-person activities for general public.
If you have Infopass appointment or other appointments that are not part of standard process as part of forms filed, then you need to reschedule the same by calling USCIS Contact Center.
What will USCIS do to these appointments scheduled ?
USCIS mentioned that they will send respective notices indicating the closure of the offices and activities to all such applicants with scheduled in-person activities. They will automatically reschedule and send new appointment notices for Biometrics and other activities once USCIS resumes normal operations. Also, they will do the same for Asylum Applicants with interviews rescheduled with new date and location.
Limited Emergency Services
USCIS said that they will provide limited Emergency services. If you have an Emergency need, then you should contact USCIS Contact Center for guidance.
Check Field Offices, ASCs Status
USCIS suggested that they check the USCIS Field Office or ASC status before they go. You can check their current status at USCIS.gov – Field Offices List
What is the impact of USCIS Office Closures ?
This is going to have a very big impact on many people’s ability to work, especially all the H4 EAD holders, if this extends beyond April 1st. As you know H4 + EAD Delays with Biometrics Process, and this closure will mean that those delays will be far more…As H4 EAD holders do not get 180 days automatic extension, for their pending EAD applications, they may end up in situations of losing jobs… If you have H4/ L2 expiring, think of all the options, discuss with your attorney and plan.
Below is the complete alert from USCIS. You can check Official Alert – USCIS Offices Closed
Mar-13 : What does National Emergency for COVID-19 Outbreak by Trump mean?
The National Emergency declaration by Trump is an action taken by US President with his authority to prioritise certain key activities in critical situations, release funds, give waivers for certain things, etc. In fact, in 2009, President Obama also announced National Emergency for H1N1 Swine Flu. With the National Emergency declaration by President Trump, he can free up federal funds to support state and local activities to protect public health and safety. Fundamentally, it is for taking care of the public health and safety measures, distribute supplies like medicine & food as needed.
What does National Emergency with COVID-19 mean for USCIS operations ?
So far, the National Emergency declared by Trump has no immediate impact on the operations of USCIS. They continue to operate, and process applications filed with them like before. They have given guidance before on the re-scheduling on appointments, if you are sick. We will cover those details later in the article. The key thing to remember is that, this guidance was given by USCIS before the National Emergency Declaration for Coronavirus situation. Below are the key actions from USCIS on their operations and expected outcomes.
- Remote Work Program: As of March 9th, USCIS indicated that they will implement Work from Home or Remote Work Program across the agency for their employees. Essentially, USCIS employees continue to work on their day to day activities, but they do not come to office, rather work remotely. Read USCIS Letter on Remote Work Program
- Biometrics / Interviews Re-scheduled: USCIS gave guidance that Biometrics, interview appointments in their offices or Application Support Centers (ASCs) need to be re-scheduled, if the applicant is sick for any reason. This will basically delay the processing time for applications that require Biometrics or Interviews like H4 Visa.
- Potential Delays with Processing : Due to the Remote work program and maybe some employees taking sick leave or some maybe impacted with COVID-19, there could be further delays with the USCIS processing times.
- Application Support Centers( ASCs) Closed : USCIS gave guidance that some Application Support centers maybe closed with COVID-19 situation. If so, they will mail you a new biometrics or interview appointment notice. Also, they suggest that you can go to another ASC and still get your biometrics done. You can check USCIS Offices Status Page for up to date info on all offices and their status
Mar-13 : USCIS Guidance for Biometrics Appointments, Interviews – Reschedule as needed
March 13th, 2020 : USCIS has updated their website with a big alert and details as in below screenshot that tells not to come to Application Support Centers or any USCIS office for any Biometrics appointments or any other appointments, if you sick. It does not matter, if you have been exposed to Coronoavirus or not. They suggest that you follow the instructions on the appointment notice to re-schedule the appointment. There is NO Penalty for re-scheduling the appointments. If you feel sick and have any of the below conditions as in below screenshot, do not visit USCIS Office.
If you go to USCIS office, when you are Sick, then the officer at the office may cancel your appointment or interview.
How to Reschedule your USCIS Appointment ?
Usually, if you look at the appointment notice, you will see a section that says “Request for Rescheduling”, it has instructions on how to mail the same. You can write a simple letter indicating the situation and ask for rescheduling the same. You can call USCIS service center as well to get to know more info. The Notice you got would have the Number to call as well. See below screenshot sample for H4 Biometrics Appointment Notice.
These are important measures to consider, while you may be worried that your processing time for Visa or Extension is going to be delayed…but, the fact of life is health and safety come first and follow the guidance.
They have announced that the offices are closed for public and they may open their office on June 4th, 2020. We need to see, if they start sending out the reschedule notices.
Maybe not, just for the job loss. Many have tried that in the past for expediting the case, but have been rejected for expedited processing. You can check USCIS Expedite Processing Request details to get an idea for expedite processing, but we do not know, if USCIS will take all of those now for emergency appointment. You can try calling USCIS Contact center and check.
Probably not. If you already have done Biometrics, your cases should be processed as USCIS employees continue to work from home and doing their job. It maybe slow, but it will be processed.
Yes, you can. As of today, there is no such restriction guidance given by USCIS.
Yes, you may expect that. Due to the COVID-19 situation, some employees may be on leave and remote work may delay some processing too.
No, all are suspended. USCIS clarified on March 20th that premium processing is suspended for all types of petitions using forms I-129 and I-140. The previous Premium processing is suspended for H1B FY 2021 Cap does not hold valid anymore too with the new guidance.
No, there is no penalty for it. You need to indicate the reason for rescheduling indicating that you are sick.
What do you think of the USCIS processing times with COVID-19 ?
Reference : USCIS Guidance COVID-19